Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye could hold a meeting as early as September, according to Deputy Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama.
“If a summit among Japan, China and South Korea is held in early fall, we could stage a Japan-South Korea summit as well,” Sugiyama said in a speech Monday in Tokyo.
It would be the first Japan-South Korea summit since Park came to power in 2013. She has declined to hold a summit with Abe over the issue of violence against females procured from the Korean Peninsula and elsewhere to work at brothels for wartime Japanese servicemen.
On Tuesday, South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Noh Kwang-il said that discussions over when to hold a bilateral summit with Japan would be premature.
“It’s too early to talk about the timing as to when a summit with Japan could be held,” Noh told a press briefing.
He reiterated that his government remains open to holding such a summit, but that conditions should be created to make such a meeting a success.
Tokyo’s relations with Seoul have been strained over the “comfort women” issue and other World War II-linked disputes as well as the Takeshima/Dokdo territorial dispute.
In an interview published last week by the Yonhap News Agency, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se suggested that a Japan-China-South Korean summit could pave the way for a top leaders’ meeting between Japan and South Korea.
On June 21, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Yun agreed at a meeting in Tokyo that they would work toward realizing a trilateral summit at an early date, possibly later this year. It would be the first since May 2012.
China, meanwhile, will likely decide on its plans for the three-way summit after hearing what Abe says in a statement expected in August to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII.
This leaves some uncertainty about whether a trilateral meeting will be held anytime soon.
Tokyo, Beijing and Seoul started a trilateral framework in 1991 at the initiative of Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi with the aim of reinforcing stability in East Asia.
Trilateral talks were held on the sidelines of annual meetings of Southeast Asian leaders until 2008, when the three countries began hosting a summit in turns.
Since the last talks in Beijing in 2012, no trilateral meetings have been held amid deteriorating relations adversely impacted by various issues, including increased tensions in the East China Sea over the Senkaku Islands.